Law enforcement in Brazil

Luiz Paulo Barreto, the former Minister of Justice, was the top authority among Federal Police forces.

In Brazil, the Federal Constitution establishes five law enforcement institutions: the Federal Police, the Federal Highway Police, the Federal Railway Police, the State Military Police and Fire Brigade, and the State Civil Police. Of these, the first three are affiliated to federal authorities and the latter two subordinated to state governments. All police institutions are part of the Executive branch of either federal or state government. Apart from these five institutions there is another one which is affiliated to municipal authorities: the Municipal Guards. The Municipal Guards de jure is not considered a public security force, but federal law 13,022 (in effect since August 8, 2014) gave them de facto police attributions.

According to the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the only security forces considered police units by Brazilian law are the ones listed in article 144 of the Federal Constitution, that is, the five aforementioned police forces.[1]

There are two primary police functions: maintaining order and law enforcement. When criminal offences affect federal entities, federal police forces carry out those functions. In the remaining cases, the state police forces undertake police activities.


Luiz Fernando Corrêa, current director of the Federal Police

The first groups assigned with security duties in Brazilian territory date back to the early sixteenth century. Small, incipient units were designated in the Brazilian coastline, with the main function of fending off hostile foreign invaders. In 1566, the first police investigator of Rio de Janeiro was recruited.[2] By the seventeenth century, most "capitanias" already had local units with law enforcement functions. On July 9, 1775 a Cavalry Regiment was created in Minas Gerais for maintaining order. At the time, intense gold mining had attracted attention and greed of explorers, generating tensions in the area.[3]

In 1808, the Portuguese royal family relocated to Brazil, due to the French invasion of Portugal. King João VI sought to reshape the administrative structure of the colony. Among several reforms, he established the "Intendência Geral de Polícia" (General Police Intendancy), which merged police units with investigative functions, call currently of Civil Police. He also created a Military Guard with police functions on 13 May 1809. This is considered a predecessor force of local military police units. Later, in 1831, when independence had already been declared, each province started organizing its local "military police", with order maintenance tasks.

On 31 January 1842, law 261 was enacted, reorganizing the investigative offices, the current "civil police".

The first federal police force, the Federal Railroad Police, was created in 1852.

Finally, in 1871, law 2033 separated police and judicial functions, creating the general bureaucratic structure and mechanisms still adopted nowadays by local police forces.[4] In 1944, a federal police institution was created. The current Federal Police department was conceived on November 16, 1964.[5] During the military dictatorship, some political police organizations were maintained, such as the DOI-CODI.

Primary functions

Law enforcement and maintaining order are the two primary functions of Brazilian police units. In Brazilian Law, maintaining order is considered a preventive effort whereby police troopers patrol the streets to protect citizens and discourage criminal activity. Law enforcement consists of criminal investigation after an offence.[6]

Prevention and investigation in Brazil are divided between two distinct police organizations. Local "military police" forces only have order maintenance duties. Correspondingly, "civil police" institutions are responsible solely for crime investigation. However, at the federal level, the Federal Police is commissioned with both preventive and investigative functions of federal crimes.[7]

Federal institutions

Federal Highway Police (Polícia Rodoviária Federal)

There are three federal police institutions in Brazil: the Federal Police, the Federal Highway Police, and the Federal Railway Police.

State institutions

Mounted Police branch of the Federal District Military Police, during crowd control activities.
Police car - Military Police of São Paulo (PMESP)

There are two types of state police institutions: the Military Police/Military Firefighters Corps and the Civil Police.

Other security forces

National Public Security Force (Força Nacional de Segurança Pública)

Entry qualification

Access to all positions under any military police forces encompasses written knowledge tests, previous and further medical exams, physical strength, agility and endurance tests and, finally, psychological interviews and evaluation. When approved on all tests, the candidate will be considered fit to military police service and admitted in special training courses (CTSP, to graduate soldiers, and the CFO, to graduate aspiring high-ranked officials). There's a minimum entry age of 18 years and, with few variations, a maximum entry age of 30 years.

Candidates to military police lower ranks, such as 2nd class soldier (entry level), must meet a minimum of high school education.

In the civil forces, any police chief are required to hold a full degree in Law and have law practicising experienced of, at least, three years.


Reports of police brutality and corruption have harmed the reputation of police institutions in Brazil, especially state forces.[10][11] Violence against suspects and extrajudicial executions are known to be employed by police.[12] In the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the Military Police has been involved in several controversial massacres of civilians, typically in poor neighborhoods where high profile criminals tend to hide. There have also been massacres in prison facilities. One of the most notorious cases is the Carandiru massacre of 1992. Torture is still commonly used as means of questioning and punishing individuals.[13]

Inefficiency in law enforcement is high, due to lack of appropriate infrastructure and qualified personnel. Careful investigation is the exception rather than the rule. In 2003, for instance, the state of São Paulo had up to 85% of homicide investigations archived before court proceedings due to lack of sufficient evidence.[14] Order maintenance is also considerably inefficient, with levels of violence in the largest urban centers being compared to that of war zones by some studies.[15][16]

According to TIME magazine December 2009/January 2010 issue, Brazilian police have murdered 11,000 (11.000) people in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo (combined) from 2003 to 2009.

See also


  1. Court Decision "ADIn n.236-8/RJ" Published June 1, 2001. Accessed September 5, 2007. (Portuguese)
  2. Rio de Janeiro Civil Police "Historical Data" Accessed September 5, 2007.
  3. Minas Gerais Military Police "Histórico" Accessed September 5, 2007. (Portuguese)
  4. Tourinho Filho, F. 2004. Processo Penal vol.1. p.190. São Paulo: Saraiva. ISBN 85-02-04597-0
  5. Brazilian Federal Police Department "Histórico do DPF". Accessed September 5, 2007. (Portuguese)
  6. Silva, J.A. 2004. Curso de Direito Constitucional Positivo. p.758. São Paulo: Malheiros. ISBN 85-7420-559-1
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Brazilian Federal Constitution, article 144". Brazilian Government (official text). Retrieved 2007-09-05. See also: "Brazilian Federal Constitution in English", text translated to English (unofficial). Accessed September 5, 2007.
  8. Ministério da Justiça "Força Nacional de Segurança Pública" Accessed September 5, 2007. (Portuguese)
  9. Jornal da Globo "Exército nas ruas do Rio" Accessed September 13, 2007. (Portuguese)
  10. Human Rights Report "Police brutality in urban Brazil" Accessed September 5, 2007.
  11. "Amnesty International reports on Violence in Brazil", SEJUP (Servico Brasileiro de Justica e Paz), News from Brazil, No. 489, 29 May 2003, Accessed September 5, 2007.
  12. Kraul, Chris; Soares, Marcelo (December 9, 2009). "Brazil's police killings condemned by Human Rights Watch". Los Angeles Times.
  13. Amnesty International "Brazil - Police Brutality" Accessed September 5, 2007.
  14. Ministério Público do Paraná "MP na Imprensa" Accessed September 5, 2007. (Portuguese)
  15. Transnational Institute "Drugs and Democracy in Brazil" Accessed September 5, 2007
  16. BBC News "Rio 'worse than a war zone'" Accessed September 5, 2007
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